Beirut – What Could Have Been.

It Is Not So Simple.

The country of Lebanon and the city of Beirut. From many aspects the former and current Beirut has been an enigma, with it’s myriad of socio-economic and geopolitical strengths and weakness. Before their civil war that lasted almost fifteen years and in theory ended in 1989, Beirut had a thriving economy bolstered by natural gas reserves, banking, tourism, and fashion. From colony to couture, no other Middle Eastern city had proved itself to be a hub of art and fashion quite like Beirut. The fusion of East and West, of tradition and modernity, earned the Lebanese capital the nickname: The Paris of the Middle East. The name Paris resonates within the city of Beirut not just for its cultural vibe, but also for the remnants of its status as a French colony during the Second World War. The cultural revolution remained strong until the start of their civil war, a war that changed Lebanon forever.

I asked a close friend of mine, who was born and raised in Beirut, to provide his feelings about his country and what it could have been. In light of last week’s massive explosion at the port of Beirut, the city and its country will have a very tough time recovering. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Beirut, especially my friend’s family. This has not been edited:

Imagine ….. Beirut. Paris of the Middle East and the Cote D’Azure of the Orient. This is what Beirut used to be called in its golden days.

Imagine if the war never happened, how would Beirut be?

Would we still call her “Paris”? Would we still have the old shopping district or ‘Souks’? Would the St. Georges hotel, with its amazing bar, the stumping ground of every spy agency in the world, still be there? Would the American University of Beirut have remained the Mecca of the Arab elite? Would the Beirut Sea Boulevard or “Corniche” have remained unspoiled? Would the Lebanese banking sector have remained the growth engine of the Middle East? Would the Lebanese press have remained the only free press of the Middle East? Would the Lebanese Medical sector and Hospitals have remained the envy of the Middle East? Would Pigeon Rock have remained the big prize of every dare devil diver in the Middle East? Would we possibly have another Lebanese Miss Universe? 

I left Beirut in 1990, just when the war was ending. I left it in ruins, I left it bleeding with no hope. For many years I imagined that one day I will go back, pretend that war never happened, that Beirut was never destroyed, that the Lebanese people are still living in peace, most of them deserve that.

Beirut was destroyed again this week.

A view of Pigeon Rock from Sea Boulevard
The Sea Boulevard
The American University in Beirut
The famous St. Georges Hotel in the old days. Pre-war.
Lebanon’s Georgina Rizk – Miss Universe 1971

Thank you to my friend for your heart-felt perspective on your hometown. I could follow this with my usual banter and takes, but that would be inappropriate after reading about the city of Beirut and the country of Lebanon.

I will wish all of you a safe and healthy week. Adios.

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